How do our kids come to faith? Sometimes God uses less drama than we might expect, and more steady work from us.
Here in America (and it’s the same in many other parts of the world) we have a church culture quick to fixate on kids and their “decisions for Christ.” I know children’s ministry directors who include in their annual reports an accounting of saved kids, and feel pressure to keep the numbers up each year. They award Bibles to those who make a decision, noting the date on the presentation page. More than once, I’ve even come across Sunday school attendance software that keeps track of which students are saved; it’s a checkbox alongside name, age, and allergies.
I wonder what criteria those software makers expect us to use. Can we really tell whether or not an eight-year-old church kid, to whom we’ve taught all the right practices of faith, is truly converted or just going through the motions? Much of the time, I don’t even want to guess.
I know, our revivalist heritage suggests ways to get that box checked: have the kid say a certain prayer, or get the student to raise a hand while every head is bowed and every eye closed. The problem with those outward decisions, though, is that the Bible tells us true conversion requires an inward new birth by God’s Spirit (see John 3:3–8). Only a new heart brings the faith in Jesus and repentance from sin that define a legitimate conversion.
This means we’re left questioning whether any outward decision was genuine. Even if we reject the “sinner’s prayer” model and instead look for evidence of heart-level change, we wonder if the change we see is enough change. Is the heart really new? Has the kid had a conversion breakthrough? This isn’t just a record-keeping issue. It’s a real concern for many parents and teachers who deeply care about their kids and want them to know Jesus.
I don’t have the answer all figured out. Some things are best left for God to know and us to trust that he will do good. But I’m convinced we could be spared some angst by taking an older approach from the days before revivalism.
A few hundred years ago, gospel believers attached just as much importance to conversions as we do today—maybe more. But they were less inclined to try to manufacture a conversion experience through a special prayer or altar call. Instead, they were diligent in teaching and practicing faith day after day, trusting God to use these things in a child’s life. They also recognized that a child raised in the gospel might be converted early on but still need to grow in that young faith, meaning change sometimes looks sluggish rather than dramatic. They celebrated baptisms and faith professions as key milestones, but didn’t always presume they could detect immediate shifts in a kid’s eternal destiny.
In short, they focused on clear, persistent, challenging, prayerful, lived-out gospel teaching. They mapped a long-haul route rather than pinning their hopes on conversion short cuts.
I recently came across an excerpt from a talk by mission leader David Platt that seems to echo this approach. I think what he says will both encourage and challenge some stressed parents. I invite you to listen.
Thoughts? Please share or comment below. I love feedback and discussion—it’s how we learn from each other! (Pick any name you like. Your email address will not be displayed.)